Leblanc retires
Commander plans to stay North of 60

Dawn Ostrem
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (May 05/00) - Col. Pierre Leblanc is preparing to hand over the reins after serving as the Canadian Forces commander for the North.

Of the 33 years he spent in the Canadian military, five of those have been spent in Yellowknife, a longer term than usual for a commanding officer in the Canadian Armed Forces.

"To serve in Yellowknife has been a long-standing dream of mine," Leblanc said. "There is something very magical about the Arctic. There's a very stark beauty about its...its vastness, its dangers that pose some of the greatest challenges to mankind and to technology for that matter."

After Leblanc, 51, finished a tour of duty in India and Nepal in 1994 he put in a request to be transferred to the Canadian Forces Northern Area for what is usually a two-year term. After three consecutive one-year extensions Leblanc explained that the health of the military body benefits from new blood, introducing new energy and outlooks.

Although mandatory retirement from the military is not imminent for Leblanc, he has chosen to leave early in order to stay in the North and start a second career.

"The quality of life is certainly an element of it and great opportunities in the sense that there's a lot of economic activities taking place," he explained, adding he plans to build a house in the Niven Lake subdivision.

He is still undecided about what his next career choice will be, but said travelling the Arctic extensively gives him an element of experience few others could ever attain.

Leblanc has visited over 60 communities in the North and has a fondness for Bathurst Inlet for "just the beauty of it," he said.

Leblanc laughed about his proud iglu-building experience in Resolute Bay in 1996.

"I wanted to experience everything our members do," he said.

"I built an iglu that didn't collapse.

"To have your first iglu not collapse, to me, was a big achievement."

Leblanc mentioned the crash of a CF-18 jet near Iqaluit in 1996 as a period of great concern. It crashed during takeoff and severed a fuel line that fed the community. For about two months the area was very unsettled due to the inconvenience of losing its power.

Leblanc said his opportunities in the forces are limited due to being close to mandatory retirement. His family has enjoyed the past five years of stability here and want to stay here.

"It's going to be something both sweet and sour," he said. "But because the opportunities are good in Yellowknife right now it's a good time to break away from the military and start a new career."

After travelling the world twice over and visiting about 35 countries, Leblanc stresses the importance the North has to the rest of Canada, namely security issues. He mentioned mining, tourism, pipeline and transportation interests as opportunities that will open up the North. Along with these changes comes Northern vulnerability.

Leblanc has been stationed here to ensure steps taken toward the creation of a potential Northern portal unfold in a way most beneficial to Canadian sovereignty. His connection to the area is almost paternal when he describes what he would like to say to Kevin McLeod, the incoming commander.

"I'd really ask him to look after the Arctic well," he said. "I'm sure he'll be equally capable, if not more capable, than I've been."